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Saturday, November 25, 2006

New, Old

New, Old

I noticed something the last time I was in Spain a couple of years ago: They don’t tear down buildings. No matter what a fucking wreck it is, it ain’t coming down. I don’t think that they would let a natural disaster destroy an historic edifice, let alone let one fall down simply through neglect or a misguided idea of progress. Everywhere you turn in Valencia, and other places in Spain, you see heroic, quixotic efforts to rebuild crumbling structures that give the Spanish ties to their past.

I have come across façades of old structures, and nothing more than the façades, like only a couple of feet deep, that are in the process of being rebuilt. I can’t imagine how much it must cost to preserve these dilapidated remnants, these ruins of the past, and incorporate them into a new construction. It would certainly be less expensive to raze the old buildings and start from scratch. Spain appears committed to cling to their past no matter what the cost.

The Mercado Central, Valencia’s old city market, is undergoing an 11 million Euro, three year rehabilitation project. The Mercado Colon, inaugurated in 1916, has been completely renovated and is now a showplace of old and new urban architecture. It is part urban mall, part old school market, and 100% the place to be and be seen. Chic cafes blend with a flower market. A big chain bookstore takes up part of the lower level along with a few food specialty shops. On one occasion a big fashion show that took up a big section of the market didn’t seem to conflict with, or give the slightest notice to, a group of older women out for a cup of coffee on their nightly rounds of shopping and socializing. It’s the architecture of inclusion.

At the same time, Spain seems equally committed to the new. A few blocks from my apartment is the Ciutat de les Ciencias y de les Artes, a museum to art and science, but museum is a terrible word for this futuristic campus at the southern end to the lovely Jardín del Turia. The Ciutat, more than anything, is a nod to Valencia’s future and its pledge to be as excellent in its present, and future as their ancestors were in their past. It seems to me that the Ciutat is Valencia’s answer to the Pyramids, to Machu Pichu, to the Acropolis, and to every other awe-inspiring man-made achievement. This campus seems to be present day Valencia’s wish to be compared favorably to the beautiful architecture of its past.

The home to Valencia’s revered football club, Valencia CF, is only a ten minute walk from where I live. The stadium is called Mestalla. It reminds me a lot of the Kingdome when I first arrived in Seattle. The Kingdome was home to both the Seattle Mariners and the Seahawks, but it was a total eyesore. Not a single person lamented when they blew up the Kingdome, because in its place they built the beautiful new home for the Mariners, known in unfortunate corporate-speak as Safeco Field. Valencia CF is now in the process of soliciting bids for a new stadium. The candidate that seems to be getting the biggest push is a very Frank Ghuery-esque futuristic structure that has a roof over all of the seating. I am a little bit of a newcomer to be in on all of the dialogue that is going on for the new stadium but all I do know is that, like the Kingdome in Seattle, no one here will miss the old Mestalla stadium. Whatever they decide to build, it seems they are determined to build something great.

It’s impossible not to notice all of the real estate offices all over town. They are on almost every block. There are for sale signs hanging from hundreds of balconies. I don’t have the figures on home ownership here in Valencia but I would assume that it is fairly high. There are commercials all over the television about the government’s commitment to home ownership for the Spanish, and how it is a good thing for their children.

I have to interrupt here with an announcement. I just saw an ad on TV that I thought had something to do with alcoholism—something that I didn’t think they thought was much of a problem here in Spain. It had really somber music and had images of wine chugging. It turns out that the commercial was about recycling your empty wine bottles. Excuse me while I finish my glass of wine and stop laughing. I’ll have to see it again to explain it to you.

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